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Tough-love Program Beginning To Pay Off

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff




October 9, 2007

TALLAHASSEE – The challenge of making Florida State's football program whole again will require a few more star-studded recruiting classes as well as the natural attrition that comes with graduation and the end of eligibility.

Weeding out the old and replacing them with players whose personalities and skill sets mesh with the Seminoles' five new assistant coaches will take time. In the short term, restoring confidence and faith in a group that has been broken for some time is the greatest challenge facing Bobby Bowden's reshuffled staff.

Six weeks into a 13-week schedule, the Seminoles are beginning to show signs of buying into the tough-love program being administered by offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, line coach Rick Trickett, receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey and others.

"You've got to keep believing in each other," Fisher said outside the locker room after the Seminoles' 21-14 win over then-No. 22 Alabama. "That's what we told our kids. You've got to love, trust and believe in one another."

Virtually everywhere you look on the FSU roster is a player who has been re-energized by that approach. Perhaps none is more important than redshirt junior quarterback Xavier Lee, who seized the starting job by leading the Seminoles over Alabama in relief of Drew Weatherford.

Lee, a mercurial talent whose less than awe-inspiring practice performances have kept him on the bench, appeared to find the light switch during FSU's bye week between a road win at Colorado and the Alabama game. Whether it was the clear realization that he was wasting talent as a spectator or a dawning moment when the offense made sense – or both – Lee stepped to the fore to earn his first playing time in the fourth game of the season.

"I just knew that this was pretty much my last hoorah," Lee said, "if I don't practice hard and if I don't show the coaches what I can do and just practice like that."

That realization came as he watched Weatherford take every game snap while redshirt freshman D'Vontrey Richardson began to earn more practice repetitions with the first-team offense. But something that Fisher told Lee following FSU's ugly victory at Colorado seemed to resonate even louder.

"Coach was like, ‘Just keep being consistent (so) I can depend on you, I can start to trust you,'" Lee said. "That would strike anyone. ... Coach Fisher has been straightforward with me ever since I've been here. When he says that, he means it, whole-heartedly. I took it to heart, thought about it and looked deep inside myself. ‘Is this what I want?' And if it is, I shouldn't hold anything back and just practice like I want to play."

Fisher certainly didn't write the book on using the bench and some well-placed comments to inspire players, but he appears to have a complete grasp of a skill that members of the previous staff lacked. More importantly, FSU's other assistants are finding similar success by working from the same book.

Junior wide receiver Greg Carr, who didn't make his way into the starting lineup until the Colorado game, has 247 receiving yards on nine receptions over the past two games. More noteworthy than his production, Carr – a chronically poor practice player over the previous two seasons – was the coaches' choice as the offensive game captain for the Alabama and N.C. State games.

Up front, Trickett's demanding style has struck a chord with true freshman guard Rodney Hudson. Embarrassingly overwhelmed in the season-opening loss at Clemson, Hudson has been consistently grading out well.

Not only have the new assistants set high standards for the players, they also seem to have provided a shot of inspiration for some veteran coaches, as well.

Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews has stuck by the side of senior cornerback J.R. Bryant, whose career has been filled with underachieving moments. Bryant has rewarded Andrews' loyalty by playing well enough to earn time in FSU's nickel package, and he delivered a key interception – the first of his career – in the win over N.C. State.

Beyond cashing in on second or third chances, Lee, Carr and Bryant also share something else in common. Each seriously considered leaving the program within the last few months.

Instead, they chose to be part of the foundation of a rebuilding project that will take time to complete but may yet take shape before the end of this season.

INDOOR FACILITY MAKES AGENDA

Florida State's desire to have an indoor football practice facility may be floating closer to the top of the priority list. The subject came up during the school's last athletic board meeting and appears to be gaining steam, even as the athletic department is about to be reshuffled.

Count Bowden among the strongest proponents for building a facility, which would give the Seminoles a significant advantage against other ACC schools. Virginia Tech and Clemson are the only other schools with dedicated indoor facilities, while Boston College has the ability to inflate a bubble over its football stadium field in order to deal with inclement weather.

The Seminoles have been hit especially hard by inclement weather – most notably lightning and thunderstorms – this season, further strengthening Bowden's argument for the need.

"I hope you all keep pounding that, because we missed Thursday's practice (before N.C. State)," Bowden said. "We missed four days before the Clemson game. ... You can't throw a pass inside (the gymnasium). You can't punt inside. You can line up and walk through plays.

"How do you know you might not have executed better and won that dadgum game?"

FSU president T.K. Wetherell, who attended the athletic board meeting, has spoken with Bowden about the project.

"He understands our needs, and it's just what our priorities are going to be," Bowden said. "I think everybody understands that. Football is too big of an operation financially where the elements can cost you. You nearly have to defend against that."

There are various unconfirmed reports that Wetherell has commissioned a committee to study the issue. Outgoing FSU athletic director Dave Hart has estimated that a facility to meet the needs and desires of the coaches could cost as much as $11 million.

Given the financial crunch currently enveloping the university, the funds to build a facility almost would certainly have to come from Seminole Boosters.